First things first - if you don't know what "Drift" means, it is the art of gliding your car across hairpin bends or in circles at high speeds using your brakes, in order to maneuver the bends without losing any velocity. This is extremely helpful if your choice of venues to settle disputes or just plain race illegally are limited to parking lots, claustrophobic streets, or winding mountain roads. In short, if you are in Japan.
An unsurprising amount of screen time is then spent on cars drifting across Tokyo mountains and parking lots in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and at the end of it all, you can't help but feel that it was a tedious exercise in presenting a glorified racing maneuver. I haven't seen the first two The Fast and the Furious-es, and I suppose they succeeded in presenting some really hot vehicles and invigorating high speed action sequences. The third film, though, is content with being a banal low budget sequel, rather than follow in the footsteps of its exuberant and enthusiastic prequels.
What you really expect out of Tokyo Drift is an ebullient attempt at wowing you with fast cars, enthusiastically shot high speed sequences, and a fun, action-filled 2 hours on a September afternoon. Sadly, the film is saddled with a budget constraint that leaves much room to be desired on the action or speed departments. In all honesty, it could also be because of the film's intransigence in boxing itself in a corner with the drift concept, but the end result does seem a bit underwhelming for the series.
This is even more disappointing in light of the extremely competently racing stage set-piece in the beginning of the film. The opening race is as entertaining as they come in racing films, and sets the bar for Japan to follow. Sean Boswell (a heavily accented Lucas Black) is a disaffected school-going youth with a weakness for cars and girls. After an altercation with a jock in his school, the boys head out to an under-development housing colony for a duel on four wheels that is a triumph of cinematography, choreography and editing. The end is calamitous, as both kids meet with accidents, and Sean is sent to live with his Naval officer father (Brian Goodman) in Tokyo.
Unfortunately the rest of the film, and the Japan crew, struggle to match up to the opening sequence. Even the liberal servings of Japanese sub-culture can't hide the CGI-heavy tedium. Sean is immediately thrown into a Japanese school, without any knowledge of Japanese. He meets up with the class hot chick Neela (Nathalie Kelley), and the token sidekick, Twinkie (Bow Wow).
Twinkie introduces him to the Tokyo underground racing sub-culture, where the inexplicably sympathetic Han (Sung Kang) lets him race his car against the bad boy Takashi (Brian Tee) aka Drift King. Needless to say, Sean loses, the bad boy still resents him, he learns to drift, and everything just rolls forward for the final showdown on a mountain top.
Sure, the plot is formulaic, but this is a summer actioner, not the next Oscar contender. The unforgivable part is the action crew's failure in creating exciting sequences throughout to keep your interest alive. There are some good moments thrown in - a mountain drift ballet, and an amazing drift through a pedestrian laden square - but these are few and far between, and the film saves the biggest stunts for the end.
The climactic eight cylinder duel is halfway decent too, but lacks the punch for an actioner that solely relies on its action. The promise shown is not delivered into an all-out set piece in the end, and that lack of a payoff probably stings the most. For a film that has performances that are less emotive than the cars, you expect more bang for the buck where the races are concerned, is all.
Don't get me wrong, the film is pukka popcorn fare, and fans of fast machines and the Need For Speed video-games will be happy chappies just watching the hot rods and the cool drifts. It's the fans of high speed action films that stand to be a bit underwhelmed. Still, if you can block out the non vroom vrrom parts, the film will manage to entertain you to an extent. Strictly for sports car/ video-game fans.
PS: Sit through the end for a surprise cameo before the credits.